NBA Mailbag

NBA Mailbag: How do players improve during the offseason?

20-year NBA vet Jamal Crawford answers 20+ questions on offseason moves, the best young core and the origin of the 'Shake and Bake'.

Damian Lillard’s trade request was one of the main headlines from the start of free agency.

The NBA Mailbag is here to answer your questions throughout the 2023 offseason! Have a question for Jamal? Submit it at the bottom of this edition of the NBA Mailbag.

Which free agent signing has been the most intriguing you think?

– from Quest in Orlando, FL

The most intriguing thing to me during free agency has been a player who isn’t a free agent – Damian Lillard. I’m excited to see what happens with his trade request and where he plays next season.

What are the best ways for young players in the NBA to improve in the offseason? And what were the skills you trained most when the season was over?

– from Istvan in Oberwart, Austria

For young players, they should talk to their team and see exactly what the team expects of them and where they see them fitting next season because that helps to know where your shots will be coming from. If I’m going to shoot five corner 3s a game, then I’m going to shoot thousands per day during the offseason.

For me personally, I worked on everything. A lot of skill work. And a lot of playing games as well because that taught me how to naturally react to different movements in different situations. It helped me develop my flow and feel for the game. I think just playing is an underused asset that a lot of players should use.

Which team do you think has the best young core right now?

– from Chris in Los Angeles, CA

For the West, it’s the Sacramento Kings. For the East, I’ll go with Boston.

What do you think of Marcus Smart at Memphis?

– from John in Naples, Italy

He’s needed as a culture-setter for the Grizzlies. I also think the Derrick Rose addition was a sneaky good pickup for them.

Who are your top 5 players of the 2022-23 season in order?

– from Geo in Greer, SC

These aren’t in order, but:

  • Nikola Jokic
  • Joel Embiid
  • Kevin Durant
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Stephen Curry/LeBron James/Luka Doncic/Jayson Tatum/Jimmy Butler

Oh, I thought you said Top 9! 😂

Which rookie from last year do you think will improve the most next year?

– from Grant in Iowa

Paolo Banchero because his work ethic is top-tier. Knowing him, Rookie of the Year was just a step on his journey. He wants so much more.

Look back at the best moments from Paolo Banchero's rookie season.

Do you enjoy the offseason or do you just look forward to the season starting again?

– from Sunny in Philadelphia, PA

Both. It’s nice during the offseason to get to see people who you haven’t seen in a while, have more stability with your schedule and less travel. But once you start gearing up and preparing for the next season, you lock in and get to work. So that’s what’s so fun about the summer. It’s like the best of both worlds.

How did you deal with the emotional disappointment of having a worse season than the previous one individually despite your best efforts?

– from Jay in Lindenwold, NJ

I remember I had a really down year in Portland after two really good years in Atlanta. People were like, “Oh, man, he’s on the other side of 30. He’s slowing down.” I was like, “No, it was just the fit. You’ll see.” I know I wouldn’t have had as much success in LA if I didn’t have as much failure in Portland because it drove me that summer to really turn it up.

What does it take to be as great as you can be?

– from Conor in Maine

Love of the game. I say this over and over. When you love the game, you’ll do whatever it takes to be successful at it. So for me, love of the game and never being satisfied drove my career.

What made you fall in love with the game of basketball?

– from Bob in Melbourne, Australia

My dad was the first one to put a ball in my hands. I was literally two years old and had a basketball. He played at the University of Oregon with Kevin Love’s dad. Ever since I can remember I’ve been in love with the game.

I watched the Draft stories about Amen and Ausar Thompson and the vision board their parents made for them. I found it inspiring and motivational. How do you train your kids to be the best basketball player that they can be?

– from Martin in Saskatchewan, Canada

I want them to genuinely love it. Then once I see the love is there, I can guide them in the right direction. With my sons, I map out what I want them to work on for the summer – things I’ve seen throughout the season for them to improve on. Then I talk to both of them about it and we attack it every day to get better at it. When you get better at your weaknesses, you start just checking off the boxes. Like, “OK, I’m better at that. Now I can move on to this.” If you can turn your weaknesses into a strength, then you’ll be really, really good.

To become a great player, what aspect of life should an athlete give more importance — spiritual or physical?

– from Bahram in Clearwater, FL

Both are important. But being spiritually connected is so important to me. It always keeps me centered and it always resets me. To me, having a pure heart, clear mind and a pure soul is the foundation for whatever comes – either in sports or life.

I have a specific question about your shake-and-bakes. For me, yours were the best I have ever seen and I wanted to know what went through your mind when you went for it? Is it something you practiced during your workouts or do these things just happen spontaneously?

– from Babz in Hamburg, Germany

Here’s the story: My summer pro-am The Crawsover used to be Doug Christie’s pro-am. When I was 16 years old, I was playing in that and going against a guy named Brian Parker. He was locking me up. I literally had two points. He was really strong and just bodied me every possession. I couldn’t do anything.

After that game, I played better and ended up making the All-Star game. As fate would have it, Brian and I matched up again on a 1-on-1 fast break. I was like, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” I unleash the shake-and-bake, he flies completely the other way and I lay it up. I didn’t even realize what I had done and had to ask my mom, “What did I do?” Once I remembered, I was like, “I can do that anytime!” So that’s how it came to be. The funny thing about it, though, is there’s actually a full version of the move, which I did when I first did it. The world hasn’t seen the full version – I was saving that for an NBA All-Star Game, but I didn’t make one, so the world has never seen it.

I’m not sure if someone has asked this already, but you’ve talked about how you used to eat candy all the time when you were younger. What was your favorite kind?

– from Isaac in Houston, TX

Anything flavorful. Starbursts. Swedish Fish. Sour Patch Kids – the watermelon kind. Mambas! Any of those were my favorites.

If you could take any player from today’s NBA and put them into either the 80s or 90s, who would you put there? What team? And why?

– from Caleb in Tavares, Florida

I’d want to see LeBron in that era. Obviously, there are so many debates about who’s the greatest ever. So it would be fun to see him go against some of the legends from that era. And I’d place him on his hometown Cavaliers.

Who is your favorite defender / who do you like to score against the most?

– from Max in Germany

I won’t say he was my favorite defender, but the toughest challenge was Tony Allen. He was so good defensively and he didn’t care about scoring. Him getting a stop was equivalent to me scoring, so we had a lot of battles. It’s funny, years later they asked him who was one of the hardest players to guard and he said me. I would have never known because he made me lose sleep at times.

I’m a college student who’s never worked out or touched a basketball in my life, but I really want to go hands-on and enjoy the game I’ve watched for as long as I can remember. Where do you suggest I get started?

– from Preston in Louisville, KY

Get a ball and go to the hoop. Just work on shooting. When you see the ball go through the hoop, it does something to you. You’ll want more of it, so you’ll continue to work on it. So just go get a ball, go to any park and shoot. But when you shoot, keep your shooting arm tucked in and follow through. That gives you a better chance to make your shots.

How important is sleep, and how much sleep should an athlete get every night?

– from Dimitri in Fairfield, IA

Sleep is so important. It’s just as important as the work you do. I try to take naps every day, even if it’s just 45 minutes to an hour. I feel rejuvenated. I couldn’t have played as long as I did without a healthy sleep routine. I couldn’t step on a court without taking a nap. Every time you saw me on a court, I took a nap that day.

Can you give me tips for getting inside the paint and scoring? I’m a small guard.

– from Krish in San Ramon, CA

Great question. As a small guard, using angles is very important. And playing in quick bursts, but without playing in a hurry. That will allow you to get into the paint and see what’s available – either shoot it or kick it out.

What do you think is the best way to improve your in-game shooting? I can shoot well in shootarounds, but in the game, I just can’t make them.

– from Carter in Idaho

Are you going the same speed in practice as you go in the games? If you’re not going game speed, then you’re just wasting time. You have to mimic the game speed as closely as possible. A lot of times people will shoot well in practice, then the game feels like they’re going 100 miles per hour … because they are. And that’s the speed you need to practice at to improve your in-game shooting.

What would you say is the best way to put on weight?

– from James in Brooklyn, NY

To put on good weight, you need to eat well and hit the weight room. That allows you to become stronger and more explosive. Don’t just eat. And don’t just do the weight room. Do a mix of both.

What’s the best way to warm up your shots and handles before a game?

– from Harleen in Bakersfield, CA

I have both my sons start really, really close and do form shooting. They start about 2 feet from the basket and they do five makes in five different spots. So 25 shots of just holding their form – they can’t drop their form until the ball hits the ground. This over-exaggeration of the form is a good way to get your shot warmed up.

For ball handling, any one, two or three dribble moves just to get the feel of the ball in your hands. And remember to get your fingertips involved to warm up those muscles as well.

Do you listen to NBA podcasts? If the answer is yes, which is your favorite?

– from Geri in Israel

Yeah, I listen to NBA podcasts. My favorite ones right now are All The Smoke, Gil’s Arena, Knuckleheads and The Old Man and the Three.

Have A Question For Jamal? Submit It Below!

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